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Corruption has its DNA

By Kole Omotoso
21 May 2017   |   3:15 am
And one does not mean family tree or DNA in the way fathers and mothers use their children’s bank accounts to hide away stolen money. What is meant here is what two writers of books on corruption are trying to say.


And one does not mean family tree or DNA in the way fathers and mothers use their children’s bank accounts to hide away stolen money. What is meant here is what two writers of books on corruption are trying to say. There is THIS PRESENT DARKNESS: A History of Nigerian Organised Crime by Stephen Ellis, 2016, published by Jacana Media, South Africa and APARTHEID GUNS AND MONEY: A tale of profit by Hennie van Vuuren, 2017, published by Jacana Media, South Africa.

Taking its title from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians – For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places – Stephen Ellis attempts to provide a background for the present spate of criminality in Nigeria (remember our recent column entitled Nigeria as a Crime Scene?) by going to Nigeria’s colonial period. He documents specific criminal activities especially ritual murders and political shenanigans. But Stephen Ellis fails to do what van Vuuren does in his book. This is to link the criminalities of the past to the criminalities of the present.

Perhaps the criminalities of the past in Nigeria do not relate to the criminalities of the present because, unlike van Vuuren, Stephen Ellis does not touch on any particular type of government corruption that has continued from colonial times. If he had spread his net wider Stephen Ellis would have been able to see such continuity in the population census corruption in the country. The way Stephen Ellis writes you would think that in fact, that this darkness is of this time place instead of being of long standing. This is the reason why the rest of this piece is going to concentrate on Hennie van Vuuren’s book.

The matter of continuity is so crucial for this book that its title Apartheid Guns and Money could easily be rewritten as African National Congress Guns and Money and it would stand. At over 600 pages this book is a doorstopper with meticulous research and verifiable sources throughout. Perhaps Stephen Ellis could be forgiven since we have no serious cases of arms purchases that span the colonial to the post-colonial periods. In the case of South Africa such a continuity occurred. And the one incident linking the two periods revolves around the life and death of Dulcie Evonne September, African National Congress representative in Paris, France from 1983 to 1988.

On the morning of 29 March 1988 as Ms. Dulcie September walked along the corridor to open her office, she was shot in the head and she died on the spot. Dulcie September was born in the coloured community of Athlon in Cape Town in 1935. She grew up an attractive and inquisitive woman who soon got involved in the politics of opposition to the apartheid system of her country. She was arrested in 1963 and imprisoned by the state. When she was released ten years later she left the country for exile in London. “She enjoyed a reputation as a hard-working, no-nonsense activist, alert to sexism, which she described as a pattern of behaviour within the ANC. ‘We must seriously examine our atrocious methods of work and our attitude towards people,’ she warned.”

In 1983 she was appointed the Chief Representative of the ANC in Paris. In her work, especially her attempt to get the French government to break diplomatic relations with apartheid South Africa she found that although France had a socialist government under President Francois Mitterrand the government of France was hand in glove with apartheid South Africa. In a speech she gave in 1987 she said: “In the sale of arms to the Pretoria regime, France is the second most important collaborator [after Israel]. . . “

The United Nations had declared apartheid as a crime against humanity and placed an embargo on the sale of arms to the apartheid regime. It was this embargo that countries like France and Israel were helping the apartheid government to evade. It was a billion dollars business. South Africa’s Armscor had offices in the South African embassy in Paris. The secret services of the collaborating countries were in the exchange of information and the co-ordination of activities to keep their dirty secrets secret. Dulcie September’s telephone calls were monitored. Her apartment as well as her offices were under permanent supervision by not only the secret services but also by the French arms company Thomson-CSF (later Thales). A month before she was gunned down she reported to the ANC: “Office entered during night on a number of occasions. Lights left on. One electric meter turned off. Nothing disturbed or stolen.”

20,000 French men and women mourned Dulcie September’s passing in protests on the streets of Paris. The person the ANC appointed as her successor was a traitor to the ANC recruited by the apartheid Special Branch. Through him it was easy to have access to her apartment and her documents, which disappeared. And nobody has been found responsible for Ms. September’s killing.

Soon after the ANC government came into power they were convinced to buy arms from the same arms company that had sold arms to the apartheid government Thomson-CSF now Thales with massive pay off of bribes to members of the government and the party. The present president and leader of the party has 783 counts of bribery, corruption and money laundering hanging over his head. So, any investigation into the death of Ms. September not only endangers people of the past governments of France and apartheid South Africa but also the present government led by the ANC.

SO, van Vuuren asks: “Why the continued cover-up so many years later? One reason is no doubt that the motive for the cover-up has additional layers of complexity. Some of the same players implicated in her murder engaged in cutting deals in the post-apartheid arms deal. These may have included French arms corporations and very powerful politicians in Paris. If they were exposed, it would harm this trade and their careers. It might also harm powerful politicians in post-apartheid South Africa who corruptly benefitted from the arms deal. Hence the silence.”

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